There are many words you could use to describe the two most locally knighted acts that CJ DeLuca plays guitar in, Drunk Couples and the almighty Florida Man, but “vulnerable” isn’t one of them. Couples, which he leads, trades in the kind of hell-yeah-mama bravado that requires formidable mojo to even attempt without falling flat on your face.
DeLuca has it, and both bands make righteous party music that never stops to question whether the madness they’re singing about is as much of a thrill ride as it sounds. This makes Resilience, his somber first foray into solo acoustic work, all the more compelling. It’s a glimpse beneath the veil, and a cautious step into the unknown for the songwriter himself.
The EP starts by almost directly asking for the listener’s patience. “He Who Shuns the Light” repeats a long, low sound for three full minutes, layering it with vocals that sound like they’re finding their footing. It’s skippable on repeat listens, but you shouldn’t. The slower heart rate it induces is the proper state to take in the rest.
“Mephistopheles” continues the introduction. This time DeLuca bellows with such conviction into the void that you almost expect the rest of the band to appear and kick the record into high gear. Instead, a drone rises out of the sparse arrangement and fades. On Resilience, catharsis stays around the corner.
The next four songs are the real meat of the release. Each one earns its place — I’d call three of them great. DeLuca’s voice is a capable instrument even without all the sound and fury of a full band. Although he hews closely to the tropes of his heavier background lyrically, he also has some songwriting tricks up his sleeve. Think Springsteen’s Nebraska by way of Danzig.
“The Devil’s Snare” seems to tell a cryptic story of a showdown with a demon, a battle that ends not in triumph, but in waking up to fight another day, for who knows how long. A soulful tune, it showcases DeLuca’s guitar wandering in circles and dueling itself, as he does throughout the record.
“Hell Street” and “The Mirror” are less abstract. They paint a picture that won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who has started to wonder if they’ve been drifting around the local bar scene too long. No one is innocent, and the most one can hope for is “a nice vacation for a day away from hell.” At face value, “The Mirror” would be an accusatory tell-off to a former lover if not for the titular refrain, calling the “you” of the song into question by reminding itself that “the devil’s in the mirror.”
The only criticism to make of Resilience would be its slightness. It’s more footnote than magnum opus. Just don’t be surprised if it ends up as a dark horse staple in your rotation all the same, left on repeat and drifting in and out of your attention late at night. It’s a worthy soundtrack for brooding.